Question: My husband and I are writing to you together. We both agree that we have a problem with our kids and that we need to do something about it. As far as the kids go, this might be the only thing we agree on.
We disagree about how to handle things and the rules, routines and punishments change depending on which one of us is home. It is even worse when we are home together because we fight about who is right. We both think that the kids’ bad behaviour is the other parent’s fault, and we are exhausted trying to get each other to agree.
How can we decide who is right and how can we stop fighting?
Answer: The solution to your problem is that you need to get on the same page with respect to parenting and in writing this letter together, you are literally on the same page.
Children whose parents are openly in disagreement and have different rules will quickly learn to divide and conquer. They learn what they can get away with and how to get around the rules.
The best way to combat this is to present a united front. In this way, kids know what the rules and expectations are and that mom and dad are in agreement.
Agreeing that you have a problem and acknowledging that you must work together to fix it is exactly the right first step.
The second step is for you both to stop trying to prove that you are right and blaming the other for the problems. It doesn’t matter so much who is right as it does that you find a workable situation for your family.
To do that, you will need to listen to each other’s concerns and ideas and work together to find a solution that fits for your kids’ developmental stages and needs and the needs and ideas of both of you. This kind of negotiation will take some time and also will be an ongoing process; as your children grow, new issues will arise and those will require new strategies.
Note: the following suggestions are general ideas that do not apply in cases where parenting strategies are abusive.
• Even before you come to some agreements about how to handle specific concerns such as routines or behavioural expectations, it is important that you stop fighting in front of the kids.
Aside from the fact that parents’ fights are stressful for kids, fighting about parenting in front of the kids undermines one or both of you and that is detrimental. Instead, if you disagree with something the other does or says, draw them aside and express your concerns privately, or address them after the children are asleep.
• Start backing each other up.
Find out what the other parent said. Then follow through even if you disagree.
For example, if Mom said “no” to watching a TV show, don’t let them watch it when she goes to the store. If you disagree with this, speak to her about it later and together you can come up with guidelines that you both can follow regarding TV watching.
• Don’t reverse decisions made by the other parent.
If you really disagree with a decision made by the other parent, talk about it in private with the parent. When you both reach an agreement about the issue, let the parent who originally dealt with it follow through or reverse the decision.
For example: Dad’s consequence for a misbehaviour was the removal of a favoured toy. Mom disagrees with this approach.
After talking about this in private parents decide to: return the toy, adjust the duration of removal or return the item and adopt a different strategy. Regardless of the decision made, it needs to be Dad who deals with the child.
• Be consistent.
Once you come up with a parenting plan for a specific situation or behaviour, stick to it. This is important for parenting in general.
• Don’t undermine or belittle the other parent.
Telling kids that the other parent is wrong or doesn’t know what they are talking about is dangerous because it conveys disrespect and that will make it difficult for you both to build relationships with your kids and to help them manage their behaviour in the future.
Parenting is difficult and it is made easier when parents co-operate and plan together. This isn’t always easy and in some cases, not possible.
Some suggestions for getting on the same page are to attend a parenting course together. Boys and Girls Club offers some excellent courses. On occasion, CV Family Services or various churches also offer parenting courses.
Reading a parenting book together is also a good idea. Counsellors are also able to help parents align their strategies and start parenting together.
If you would like to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consult a Counsellor is provided by the registered clinical counsellors at Pacific Therapy & Consulting: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies, Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Karen Turner. It appears every second Friday.